Sunday 21 November to Tuesday 30 November 1999 - Mid-Atlantic
Sunday 21 November - Just South of Las Palmas, heading out into the Atlantic, course 180 magnetic Lat : N 27 deg 53 Lon : W 15 deg 19
We woke up late, sleeping off the firework party, with just a few last minute jobs to do. Last fill of water, and I watch with some alarm as ‘Lazy Duck’ sinks lower and lower on her water lines. She is absolutely packed to the gunwales with food, water, diesel, and all the paraphernalia that eight people need to survive at sea. I have briefed the crew that we are going to have to eat and drink our way into competitive shape, as the Duck will not move very fast so laden down.
Talking of which, we were a bit shocked to discover that our handicap rating is rather high, as it is worked out on sail area, and does not take the age of the boat. For those of you unfamiliar with the way handicap racing works, our Time Correction Factor (TCF), which is the number by which our elapsed time is multiplied to give the corrected time, which is then used to rank the yachts. Our TCF of 1.125 assumes that we will sail faster than a brand new Oyster 48 footer. Surely some mistake! We have been given a mountain to climb if we are going to do any good on handicap. Luckily we have some mountain climbers (e.g. Charlie) on board, so we are going to go for it!
We motor out at 1100 to be ready for a 1300 start. We need to be out a bit early for a last photocall with Richard Langdon, the ‘Yachting World’ photographer. It's bedlam on the startline, rather predictably, given that over two thirds of the people in the race have never been racing before. We stand well clear and watch.
At 1215, we do our photo call with ‘Yachting World’, co-ordinated over VHF channel 72. After a couple of twirls showing off the Big Red Battle flag, and also two runs past under sail, our duty is done and we settle down to watch the start of the Big Racing boats, like ‘Tokio’ the Whitbread 60, and all the BT Challenge boats. They go at 1245, and we go at 1300 with the bulk of the fleet.
The line is between a committee boat, which in this case is a Spanish Navy Frigate (bigger than I am used to!) and an orange buoy just off the rocks on the coast line. We get a good transit so that we know where we are, and line up at five minutes to go. It is a reaching start in about 20 knots of breeze. My nephew Daniel is calling the time out to me as we ease towards the line, accelerating and decelerating to judge it just right. At about 20 seconds to go, I call for the sails to be trimmed in and we set off. We cross the line a few seconds after the gun, about one third the way along the line and well up in the front line of boats. We have a really good slot with clear air, and were one of the few boats up on the line at the start, so we get away quickly. A good start. Over the next hour we jockey for position with a Swan 53, and an Oyster 55, and a Beneteau. 47. We manage to leave the Swan and the Oyster behind, but cannot shake of the Beneteau. Still, the mood on the boat is great, as we are really moving, and the rest of the fleet gets left behind quite quickly. There are about 6 boats around us and 5 that are ahead, but otherwise we are at the leading edge. I am quite surprised, as we are so heavy relative to most of the boats. I guess it is partly because we are reaching, and ‘Lazy Duck’ particularly likes this point of sail.
Still, it’s a great feeling and we all really enjoy the moment.
Over the VHF we here of quite a few calamities. One boat never left the dock, as their starter motor blew as they fired up to go. On the start line there was one big collision. Both boats involved sustained sever damage to their bows, and had to retire. Another boat lost their steering on the start line and had to use their emergency steering on the line.
We are currently reaching down the East Coast of the island, and will turn onto a course of about 250, i.e. towards the West, when we have rounded the South edge of Gran Canaria. The weather forecast is good, and Hurricane Lenny, a late season hurricane in the mid-Atlantic which had caused some concern, is slowly dissipating. We should have good Trade winds most of the way.
It is now 3 pm, and I am going to sign off, as I want to send this message whilst we are still in mobile phone range. We will be sending update to the site about every four days as we progress across the Atlantic, as long as the Satellite phone holds out. If you are interested, you can also get daily position updates on the ‘World cruising’ website, which has a page for ‘ARC – current positions’. We will be radioing in positions daily.
Bird’s Eye View – 20 November 1999
In just over 12 hours we will hear the start gun to the ARC race across the Atlantic and 244 boats will somehow get over the start line. That means I have 12 hours through the night to remember something I haven’t bought. Already today I’ve celebrated three times about my last ever visit to the shops… until I remember something I’ve forgotten and have to go back.
This last week I have put into practice my Grand Plan for provisioning the boat for 8 crew for three weeks – with a two week contingency – and I veer between panic that I’ve got too much and panic that I’ve got too little. At the very least, the first week will be frugal while the green fresh produce ripens and then we’ll have a glut of overripe everything in the second week which will leave nothing for the third! But that’s when Plan B comes into action, and the floorboards will be lifted to reveal the myriad of tins lurking underneath.
We’re very lucky on Lazy Duck to have both a fridge and a freezer – although we’ll have to be very careful with powering it during the crossing because the compressor chews up the juice which is in limited supply – and so I’ve been able to plan for quite a varied diet. A local hypermarket was happy to vacuum pack some pieces of fresh meat, and I scooped up as many of their cooked chickens as I could carry. I also raided their freezer section which had a pretty good range of frozen veg. We decamped to a hotel for the last week because there wasn’t any room to sleep on board while everything was being moved around. The hotel manager was persuaded by our wonderful Canarian friend, Jorge Cantero, to freeze for us in his kitchen all the fresh meat, cooked chickens, frozen veg and several pre-cooked meals I’d prepared, so that we could leave with a rock solid freezer. Trouble was, no-one thought to ask the chef, who nearly had a purple fit when he saw me standing in the lobby like the local mad woman with her plastic bags! I also upset the housekeeper with my large bag of sailor’s washing (i.e. heaving) because there wasn’t a laundry in the town that hadn’t already been overloaded with the other boats’ offerings. I think they were glad to see the back of us, but we were delighted with our booty of clean clothes and frozen food stuffs.
I had to dig a bit deeper to find all the tins I needed. Whoever designed the layout of the shop needs his head read I decided, as I found myself passing the tinned tomatoes for the umpteenth time, having walked in circles for at least a mile in the search for tinned beans. After a long five hours I had eventually ticked most of the dry, tinned and liquid stores off my list. The only disappointment was fruit squashes, as the Spanish seem to go more for juices or canned drinks. I took what I found back to the crew for a tasting session and they were able to approve a couple which hopefully will be enough to disguise the swimming pool taste in the water. (We only have room to carry about two thirds of the bottled water we’ll need for the three weeks, so we’ll have to supplement it with the chlorine flavoured variety available from the hose pipe.) Having wheeled my three trolleys to the check out and paid for it all I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to carry it all back to the boat myself. Twenty five boxes were eventually delivered later that day and that was when my courage almost failed me!
Unfortunately they were delivered just 40 minutes before we were due to go for an ARC barbecue to meet some of the other boat crews. So we had a mad rush to remove all the cardboard packaging (to foil the cockroaches); remove all the labels from the tins (so they don’t get soggy and block the bilges); relabel the tins with a marker pen, and haul everything down below so it didn’t get stolen as we were tucking into our BBQ’d sausages. We were hugely relieved that we didn't have to dig our way through the layer of tins to get to our bunks that night! Having spent the night fighting off malevolent tins and bags of flour in the hotel room I got down the next morning to finding a place for everything under the floorboards (luckily Jonathan had seen sense and had stowed the anchor elsewhere!). I was most satisfied to find that our stores fitted perfectly, with not a cubic inch to spare.
The next battle was with the fresh and semi-fresh food. The local produce market is fantastic and we had no trouble finding all the fruit and veg we needed. We were even lucky enough to find a stall which was prepared to deliver our ten crates to us later that day. When the crates arrived the children washed and carefully dried every piece of produce on the pontoon before we brought it on board to stow – to remove any creepy crawlies lurking in the creases, and also to conserve water on the go by washing everything before hand. Those in the know wouldn’t dream of holding a stem of bananas at the top while dipping it into a tub of water – their hand would very soon be covered by a colony of spiders and insects escaping the dunking. In fact, buying a whole stem of bananas may not be wise in any case, as the bananas apparently have an annoying habit of ripening all at the same time. I tried to get around that by buying small bunches at different levels of ripeness and stowing them separately from each other. Ripe bananas and tomatoes give off ethanol which ripen everything else around them, so one has to be careful to keep them in a different compartment from the green ones, and indeed from the rest of the fruit. Charlie Vella worked his magic with our spare netting and the saloon has been festooned with brightly coloured pouches of oranges, apples, plums, peppers and beans. They are swinging gently alongside dangly fingers of salamis and chorizo sausage, and together they make an interesting fragrance. The pride and joy of the galley is the whole leg of Spanish jamon anchored in just the right position to allow for daily lunch time slicing.
The chocolate ration is something else. In the effort to hide it from the rest of the crew I find don’t seem to have much room for the rest of my belongings. Already crew habits are showing themselves, and Jonathan and Sally have been unanimously christened the Gannet Watch, as the amount of chocolate they consume together in one sitting is awesome. Snacks are a hot topic, and the cook hopes she’s got her sums right as I fear she may yet be keel hauled if the nuts and biscuits run out…if you don’t hear from me in the next couple of weeks you’ll know why…
Sunday 21 November - pm
A BUSY DAY AT THE OFFICE….
Spirits were up after our cracking start and fast reach down the East coast of Gran Canaria. It looked as if we were pretty competitive in terms of speed, as long as there is some wind. As we popped out of the South end of the island, the wind started to die slowly. All around us spinnakers started to appear, as yachts sought to keep up the momentum in the dying breeze. We had decided a long time ago not to carry a full spinnaker, but instead had re-cut a very old one to make a sort of cruising chute. It tacks down at the bow on a strop, and does not need a pole, so is easy to handle with a cruising crew. We have only flown it a couple of times, but in fact it is this crossing, and the Pacific crossing, where it was intended to come into its own.
Andy and Charlie unpacked it, set up the lines, and I called for the hoist from the helm. It went up, filled, and off we went, with an extra knot of speed. We settled down for about five minutes with our new trim, and where just beginning to pull away nicely when disaster struck. Without any warning, the sail just ripped open at the head, and the tear rippled down the seams, multiplying into many tears as it travelled, reducing the sail to shreds. Charlie dashed up to help Andy gather it in at the bow, and we packed it up sadly. A blow, as we have 2800 miles of downwind sailing ahead, and we were counting on this sail for an extra knot or two. Surprising that it ripped too, as it was only in about 12 knots of true wind, which is well within the tolerance of that sort of sail. We put it down to age – it is a very old sail, and eventually the material on such thin sails does deteriorate.
We gybed the genoa, poled it out, and set about trying to do the best we could without the spinnaker. Fortunately, as darkness came, the wind piped up considerably, and soon we were really trucking a long at 9 knots, with the occasional surf over 10. This soon allowed us to temporarily forget the disappointment at losing our spinnaker. Caroline fed us a delicious first night at sea supper and all was well with the world.
At least until about midnight, when I discovered that the bilge was filling up with sea water at rather an alarming rate. We pump the bilges out every hour on the hour, partly to keep a check on water ingress, and also to remove any gas that might have seeped from the cooker and sunk down into the bilge. Normally it has 1 or 2 wet pumps, and 5 dry. Suddenly we were needing 70 wet pumps, and it was filling up quick. Torch in mouth, I traced the inflow all the way back through the engine compartment, under the freezer in the aft cabin, to a location somewhere in the lazarette, which is the big aft stowage locker, accessed from under the helmsman's seat. I could not see exactly where the problem was, because the lazarette was chock full of stuff, such as spare water and diesel, ropes, the emergency grab bag, etc. After measuring the water inflow and trying to guess what it might be , I decided to wait until dawn before making the next move. The reason was that to get at the source of the problem we would have to unload the lazarette, which is a dangerous job in a big sea with the Duck bucking like a bronco. Also, we were fairly sure it was either water being forced into one of the breather pipes for the gas, or more seriously, ingress from the rudder stock. Both would be due to our abnormally low trim and a big following sea.
Monday 22 November - Wind is ENE Force 6, i.e. right behind us.
We are goosewinged, with the main to starboard and the genoa poled out to port. Steering 250 magnetic. Heading for point Lat 20 N, Lon 30 South We monitored ingress (stable at 70 – 90 pumps an hour) and tried to sleep. I must admit, I did not sleep soundly at all, but when we unpacked the lazarette at dawn, was relieved to discover that the main problem was indeed the gas breather, which we simply plugged up with a bung, stopping the inflow immediately. Phew! Big relief.
So now we could concentrate fully on the race, and settling in to the crossing and our new sleep pattern. To start with we are working to a system where Charlie, Andy and I each do two hours on, four hours off on the helm. This is a temporary watch system until Sally has learned how to steer the Duck in the prevailing conditions, i.e. goosewinged in a blow, with big waves and a wicked cross-swell. The trickiest possible conditions but Sal is learning fast and has good concentration. She will soon be able to deal with them.
At about 1.30, we get on the SSB radio for the first of our regular daily ‘scheds’ . The whole fleet has been divided into groups, roughly in order of size. Each group has a Net Controller, who orchestrates a roll call of all yachts, asking for position, wind strength, and engine hours. We find that we are still doing very well, in the front edge of our class, and even up with some of the stragglers in the bigger class. It is going to be fun following daily progress as the race unfolds. The radio sched is initially rather undisciplined, and rather reminds me of greenhorn officer cadets at Sandhurst (as I was!) trying to sound businesslike and natural over the radio, and failing miserably. As Jon Dutton once said to me, civvies should never be let anywhere near radios! Still, eventually the Controller gets a grip, and we are able to make some sense of most peoples position.
We are still travelling at tremendous speed, and tonight Andy clocks the record surf at 13 knots! Both Charlie and I touch 12.5 knots. This is living!
Amazingly, despite perfect 20 mile visibility, we can no longer see any other yachts for a while during the day. Its eerie, after the chaos at the start, and also hearing them all on the radio and knowing that they are all around us. In mid afternoon, however, another yacht does appear from way over to port, crosses slightly ahead, then gybes onto our line. They track at our speed. We realise it is Brandamajo, from their position report, and we can just make out their distinctive red genoa line. They have to give us time on handicap, so we are happy for them to be there.
We put a reef in the main at night. We could probably live without it, but better to be on the safe side, as it is hard to reef in this configuration.
Tuesday 23 November - Wind, ENE, Force 5, goosewinged, steering 250 magnetic.
Shook the reef out in the morning, and continued to truck South at consistently over eight knots. This is great early progress, so we are well pleased.
There has been endless debate ashore amongst the other yachts about the various tactics that we could employ to get across the Atlantic quickly. The straight line (rhumb line) distance is about 2680 miles. The more conservative, and traditional route is to head South initially until you get to a point at latitude 20 North, then turn West at this point, about 300 miles North of the Cape Verde islands. The only debate is about which Longitude to head for. We have heard opinions ranging from 25 West to 40 West. The aim is to ensure that you pick up the Trade Winds securely, which blow off the back of the Azores High Pressure system, before heading West. It does however add about 250 miles to the total distance travelled. This route is known as the ‘butter route’ : "Head South until the butter melts, then turn West…."
Andy, who is navigating, and I have kept our own counsel while listening to all this lore. We certainly do not want to turn West too early and sail into the windless area in the Azores High. On the other hand, we are racing, and recognise that the weather systems are constantly changing and evolving, so we are ready to be opportunist and take calculated gambles from time to time.
We plan to watch the weather, listen carefully to the radio broadcasts of yachts ahead and astern, and call it from what we see. Our plan at this point is to head for 20N and 30 W, which we will revise daily.
The kids started morning lessons again and the routine started to be re-established after the long time we have spent hooked up to land, and then the excitement of the start.
We got an e-mail for the ARC organisers to say that the remnants of Hurricane Lenny, a late season hurricane which was causing some consternation, was in fact likely to leave a residual low pressure in place of the Azores high for a while. This meant that we could expect a couple of days of headwinds on our track (horrors!) and some squally weather with winds up to 35 knots. Not what we came for – it will be just like the English channel on a RORC race! Still we will be able to cope with it at least as well if not better than the other competitors on the Duck, as we have a well built boat and a strong crew.
Wednesday 24 November - Wind Easterly Force 4, now steering 230 magnetic to avoid the worst of the headwinds, having calculated the time to arrive in that zone.
We have been blessed with a bright full moon for the first few days of the trip. It is absolutely perfect on watch at night. The moon gives everything a silvery glow, and the stars are very bright, unfiltered by the haze of pollution. Its heaven out here, and we feel very lucky.
Today we definitely feel the warmth of the lower latitudes, and the bright sun starts to give us a taste of what is to come in the Caribbean. The wind has gone a bit lighter, which is not great news for us, as it means other yachts will be able to use their spinnakers, and ours is lying forlorn, unmendable, in a shredded heap.
The daily sched however, shows that we are still well up there with the big boats. ‘Highland Fling’, a new Swan 60 is on the same latitude as us, but 70 miles further West. ‘Tokio’, the Whitbread 60 has not reported at all, we suspect because she is in the serious racers division and wants to keep her tactics a secret from the BT Challenge yachts, ‘Compaq’, ‘Logica’ and ‘Challenge’. Although these boats are in a completely different division, it is still useful to benchmark against them.
The Oyster 4852 seem to have mixed fortunes. ‘Bellerophon’ and ‘Dragonfly’ are keeping up with us, but the rest have fallen back. I suspect however, that as the winds go lighter they will start to reel us in. We are gratifyingly well in front of ‘Grandee’ a Swan 51 that a friend, Richard Muirhead, did the Sydney Hobart on a few years back.
Thursday 25 November - About 240 miles North of the Cape Verde islands in the Eastern Atlantic. Lat : N 21deg 19, Lon: W 25 deg 04 Wind ESE, Force 2-3, steering 230 magnetic.
Another beautiful moonlit night, and we make good progress. We had a further e-mail which indicated that the Son of Lenny Low pressure system seems to be tracking North much faster now, so we may be able to avoid the headwinds altogether. Good news from the cruising point of view.
In the afternoon, the girls made up a special message for Leena El Rafaey, one of Sarah's best friends from Newton Prep whose birthday is on Sunday.
Daily sched shows that the fleet is now bunching up quite well together. Those, like us, that are further to the West have a bit less wind, but are closer to St. Lucia. Those further West still have the remnants of the Trades, but going lighter all the time. It seems that the normal pattern of events has been quite heavily disrupted by the Lenny system. Andy and I have a good half hour conference on the subject, and decide to gybe and head further West to get back onto our original track heading for Lat 20 N, Lon 30 W. We do this at dawn, cover about 20 miles on Starboard gybe, then gybe back. The wind is very light, an we are definitely suffering for it. Lots of prayers on board offered up, promising all kinds of good behaviour in return for a few extra knots of breeze.
The plan is to get down there just a little to the West of the fleet, most of whom seem to be making for the point Lat 20 N , Lon 25 W. Once we get there, everyone will turn West and it will just be a drag race for the remaining 1900 miles to St. Lucia. The critical question is whether our wind will hold out to get us there in a good position on the starting blocks of this drag race…..
Friday 26 November - Wind ESE, Force 1 steering 250 magnetic, distance in last 24 hours : 106 miles.
As you will note from the daily distance run, a measly 106 miles compared to 200 on the first day, life has slowed down a lot out here. Still, no big deal. After all, we are supposed to be chilling out on this trip, and ghosting along in light winds in the middle of the Atlantic is about as relaxing as you can get.
Unless you are racing!
In fact, we discover that, whilst we have slowed down a bit, so has everyone else. The nightmare scenario in these races is to find yourself in the only area of no wind, parked up in the middle of a dead zone. Thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Lenny, no-one has any wind, except a few yachts to the North and West of us.
So we settle down and start enjoying life out here. The games come up and a backgammon tournament starts off, involving everyone in the crew. Just after lunch, the line fizzes out, to herald the arrival of our first Atlantic ‘Lampuka’, which Andy (please take note Steph!) turns into a delicious sauce for dinner with steamed rice. And the music is cranked up to match the early evening mood.
There was real tension and adrenaline around the build up to the start, and the first few days’ exciting high speed romp down the African coast. Now it drains away. We are settling in really well, and the Duck and its crew have found a new cruising gear.
Saturday 27 November - Wind ESE force 1, Course 230 magnetic, distance in the last 24 hours, 101 miles (a close one…!)
Even lighter winds last night and today, so we just squeaked in over the 100 miles for the noon-to-noon run. Sched shows that we are still well up there with yachts in our class, so we are not unduly worried.
One irritation is that for some reason we are unable to use the Worldphone for either voice or data calls, since Thursday afternoon. The hardware and software appears to be working perfectly, so we strongly suspect that this is a problem with the accounting authority. We will try to make contact with NERA, our service provider, through radio contact via another boat. Hopefully we will find out what is up on Monday and fix the problem, as we are relying on it for e-mail, and weather updates.
The whole crew has got really into stargazing. We have some really good books on board, and an amazing CD-ROM which Sophie and Andrew James gave us. It’s basically a very sophisticated planosphere. You enter your Lat and Lon, and it gives you a picture of the sky above you at that time, and identifies all the constellations, stars and planets, with lots of useful stuff about each. We set the laptop up on the cockpit table at night, and each watch can then spend time getting to know what is going on up there, tracking progress through the night. The sky remains crystal clear, and the waning moon makes it easier to spot new stars as each night goes by. Sarah and Dan have been doing the occasional night watch, and they are really excited as we uncover each constellation, including their birth-signs.
Sunday 28 November - Position : Lat 19 deg 36, Lon 29 deg 43 , Distance in last 24h : 127.3 miles, Wind has turned South, force 3, Course 260
Our patience is at last rewarded with some wind, and, joy of joys, its just forward of the beam which is Lazy Ducks favourite. This stays for most of the day, which is great. We have arrived at the turning point of 20 N 30 W, so and we are able to point directly at St. Lucia for the first time. Hurrah!
It appears that at least half the fleet had run out of patience over the last 48 hours and done a bit of motoring. In this event you are allowed to motor for a certain maximum number of hours. If you do however, you must declare it and your final corrected time will be affected by a penalty for every hour motored. We do not intend to motor at all. The crew has been been working hard to coax every single fraction of a knot that we can from the Duck, and we have been well rewarded for our efforts so far I feel. The daily sched shows that we are in good shape, and have an excellent position on the starting grid for the drag race westwards.
We have completed our first week at sea, and are all in excellent spirits. This is an excellent crew. Everyone is doing their bit. Charlie is managing and maintaining the engine and generator, checking oil levels, adding diesel to the tanks and fixing little things as we go. Andy is doing all the navigation, and playing lots of guitar. He is an excellent discussion partner for all the tactical decisions. Caroline is doing an exceptional job of feeding us, as well as doing all the teaching.
Sal’s helming has come on in leaps and bounds, and she is getting very good conversion rates from knots of wind into distance covered towards St. Lucia.
We celebrate by catching three lampuki (dorado), which makes a delicious celebratory dinner.
Monday 29 November - Lat : 19.00 N, Lon 32. 08 W, Wind ESE Force 4 Distance in last 24h : 147.7 miles, Broad reaching on a course of 260 degrees
Wind is picking up all the time, and we had an even better night last night, with relatively steady winds.
We are picking up the weather by listening to an ARC weather briefing form time to time, but also by listening to Herb. He is a Canadian guy who is a ham radio enthusiast and weather expert. He runs an informal chat net at 2000 GMT each night, operating from his home in Toronto, and has literally hundreds of yachts in the North Atlantic tuning in. At 1900, the yachts come up to make contact in turn, announcing that they are listening and giving their position. Herb listens silently, plotting them on his master met map, and then at 2000 he starts to work through his flock. He contacts each yacht in turn, gets their current position and barometer reading, and then talks through the likely weather for their yacht in the next few days, taking into account the speed and intent of the yacht. He starts in the areas where weather is really bad and potentially dangerous, and then works towards those having an easy ride. He describes what will happen in terms of wind, rain and sea state with extraordinary precision, and has proved very accurate. Its no wonder that he is very popular, and it can take an hour or two before he gets to you. Well worth the wait. Apparently he is there 365 days a year. Amazing dedication, and I wonder how many lives he has saved.
I cranked up the watermaker today, and we made about 50 litres again. I am trying to get a balance between ensuring that we have enough to be reasonably comfortable, and keeping the weight down, so that we stay fast. We are rationed to 4 litres a day each, which has to cover washing and drinking. This means that we need to wash up in sea water. Daily showers happen on the foredeck using the seawater pump, with special soap that lathers in seawater. So far our consumption has been spot on, so the crew are doing their bit.
This afternoon I made a ship to shore link call via Portishead radio to NERA, the satphone people to try and find out what is up with it. As I suspected, there was a small bureaucratic problem that needed sorting out, and John-John was on the case. We were back on line within an hour. Good to know that the radio telephone system works, as it is a good back up if the satphone goes down. When I download e-mail, 33 messages flow in! It’s good to be back in touch.
Tuesday 30 November - Lat 18 deg 22, Lon 34 deg 49 Wind ESE force 5, Distance in the last 24 h, 167 miles goosewinged on a course of 265 degrees.
Quite a wild night as for some reason the swell has got up and become very confused. We have had it easy over the last few days. Now with slightly stronger winds and a bad swell, concentration on the helm needs to be total. Andy and I gybed the headsail at dawn, so we are now goosewinged again, and pointed straight at St. Lucia. The drag race has begun.
The daily sched shows that we are still in the hunt. Some of the boats that turned West early really have romped away, as they had wind whilst we wallowed. They are already at 38/40 West. Now however, they are facing South Westerly winds, which will slow them down a bit.
Sometime tomorrow we are going to hit the half way point. We are planning a ‘Half-Way Day’ series of celebrations. There will be a special lunch of sirloin steak, and we will crack open a bottle of Moet. In the evening, the children are staging a gala concert, singing all the songs that we have been learning, and also a special song commissioned for the occasion, called "The half way song". As I write, the invitations are being written out on the saloon table, and invitees are being informed to turn up dressed ‘smart/casual’. I may be forced to shave week-old whiskers.
It should be a big night….
I was just about to send this log entry off, when the fishing line started literally smoking out with a high pitched whine. Charlie was on the helm and yelled for help. Andy and I dashed up, and after an epic half hour battle in which we slowed the boat right down, we landed the BIGGEST FISH WE HAVE EVER SEEN! It is about a 30 KG Wahoo, over five feet long. Great excitement, and after gutting and making steaks, we still had to throw half of it back, as we can’t keep it. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far. Hannah almost in tears throughout the process worried that her favourite fishing rod was going to break! Quite incredible that it did not, given the load it was under.
Bird’s Eye View – 29 November
I shall never again be able to smell salami or Spanish jamon without thinking immediately of the Atlantic; that and pineapples. We are into our tenth day and we’ll be passing our half way mark tomorrow. Unfortunately the trades are apparently waiting for Friday before they set in, and I’m looking with trepidation at my fresh stores!
It took us all a good three days to get used to the motion and new sleep pattern, but have now settled very happily into our respective routines. The weather has become noticeably warmer the further south we’ve come, to the extent that one can now wear a t-shirt until quite late at night. Every so often a rival boat pops up on one of the horizons to give the helmsman something to race against, and if we lose out we put it down to our shredded spinnaker. The fleet is pretty widely scattered now, and those who chose to go west early seem to have scored.
So as time passes and the weather warms up, the heady fragrances emanating from the bowels of the boat mature and send warning signals of impending crisis beneath the floor. As part of my morning routine I scurry from pouch to pouch sniffing and squeezing the fruit in an effort to root out any green and hairy monsters. So far it hasn’t been too bad, except that I found a melon – which I had been relying on to last the duration – that had gone completely liquid within its skin! Also Sarah was beginning to complain about the strong smell under her bunk, which was where the pineapples and mangoes were living. So we’ve been eating quantities of fruit salad in the last few days, thereby totally upsetting my careful fruit calculations! We’ve all enjoyed it though.
The vegetable store under the floor is the real horror story. Out of sight and out of mind, the monsters don’t change their appearance, they just melt. I’d made the mistake of washing the fennel and leeks before we left. This meant that I had to deal with a liquid situation, on my hands and knees with my head in the bilges, just when I was still trying to come to terms with the bucking and lurching of the boat! Luckily everything else seems to be keeping its shape so far – except that all 30 avocados ripened on the same day, so I’ve been having fun thinking up new ways to eat them, and the crew has enjoyed all the salads at lunch time.
You will have read in Jonathan’s log about our outstanding fishy success this morning. We’ve been having some luck with small dolphin fish – catching three on one particular day, which gave us a slap up supper. The excitement at each catch has been progressively dwindling however, particularly as we’d heard of a fellow boat whose own catch had been snatched at the very end by a half ton marlin! So the boys rolled up their sleeves and put on the mega lure – a tasty plastic squid which is apparently irresistible to larger fish. Yesterday we had our first major bite and Charlie spent some time bringing in a huge dolphin fish as long as his arm which unfortunately flicked off the line just as he was swinging it over into the cockpit. We were all in mourning for a while but secretly impressed at the potential results. So when the line started its high pitched whizzing this morning and Charlie yelled for help we all piled up on deck in anticipation. Once the fish had been brought in, photographed, gutted and butchered, I was handed an enormous tupperware dish brimming with wahoo steaks. We had estimated that we could safely keep enough for three meals, without the danger of it going off. Even then we had to throw more than half away much to our sorrow.
We have just finished our lunch of wahoo steak, seared in a light sauce of oil, soy sauce, garlic, lemon and rosemary. Delicious! What a way to celebrate our half way point!